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Cross Cultural Exchanges and the Silk Road Notes (pg. 287-310)
In the year 139 B.C.E., the Chinese emperor Han Wudi sent an envoy named Zhang Qian on a mission to lands west of china. The emperor's purpose was to find allies who could help combat the nomadic Xiongnu, who menaced the northern and western borders of the Han empire. From captives he had learned that other nomadic peoples in far wester lands bore grudges against the Xiongnu, and he reasoned that they might ally with Han forces to pressure their common enemy.
The problem for Zhang Qian was that to communicate with potential allies against the Xiongnu, he had to pass directly through lands they controlled. When Zhang Qian left Han territory, Xiongnu forcers captured him. For ten years the Xiongnu held him in comfortable captivity: they allowed him to keep his personal servant, and they provided him with a wife, with whom he had a son. However, he escaped with his family and servant. He even kept the yak tail that Han Wudi had given him as a sign of his ambassadorial status. He fled to the west, but didn't succeed in lining up allies against the Xiongnu. While returning to China, Zhang Qian again fell into Xiongnu hands but managed to escape after one year's detention when the death of the Xiongnu leader led to a period of turmoil.
Although his diplomatic efforts did not succeed, Zhang Qian's mission had far-reaching consequences. Zhang Qian had brought back information of immense commercial value. While in Bactria about 128 B.C.E., he noticed Chinese goods-textiles and bamboo articles-offered for sale in local markets. He found out that the the articles had come by way of Bengal. From this information he deduced the possibility of establishing trade relations between China and Bactria through India.
The intelligence that Zhang Qian gathered during his travels thus contributed to the opening of the silk roads-the network of trade routes that linked lands as distant as China and the Roman empire - and more generally to the establishment of relations between China and lands to the west. China and other classical societies imposed political and military control over vast territories. They promoted trade and communication within their own empires, bringing regions that had previously been self-sufficient into a larger economy and society.
The influence of the classical societies did not stop at the imperial boundaries. Nearby peoples regarded their powerful neighbors with a mixture of envy and suspicion, and they sought to share teh wealth that those neighbors generated.
Beyond their relations with neighboring peoples, the classical societies established a broad zone of communication and exchange throughout much of the earth's eastern hemisphere. Trade networks crossed the deserts of central Asia and the depths of the Indian Ocean. Long-distance trade passed through much of eurasia and north Africa, from China to the Mediterranean basin, and to parts of sub-Saharan Africa as well.
This long-distance trade profoundly influenced the experiences of peoples and the development of societies throughout the easter hemisphere. It brought wealth and access to foreign products, and it enabled peoples to concentrate their efforts on economic activities best suited to their regions. It facilitated the spread of religious traditions beyond their original homelands, since merchants carried their beliefs and sometimes attracted converts in the lands they visited. Long-Distance Trade and the Silk Roads Network
Human communities have traded with one another, sometimes over long distances. Before classical times, long-distance trade was a risky venture. Ancient societies often policed their own realms effectively, but since they were relatively small and compact, extensive regions lay beyond their control. Trade passing between societies was therefore liable to interception by bandits or pirates. This...